Is the English language sexist?


Admittedly this is a fairly intense question for late on a Wednesday evening, but nevertheless I pose you the question to you: is the English langauge sexist?

I agree that there may be a degree of sarcasm in the way that people speak to one another, I completely agree however that this is more influenced with tradition and the way British people generally speak, rather than Britain being a generally quite sexist society. To those reading this who think this is a ludicrous question and not worth pondering, I would like to present a few suggestions. Of course I will be using examples of sexism to both genders, just to make it fair, and so I am not portrayed as some sexist feminist.

Sexism for woman

I think women almost look for things that are sexist these days, I really do. It’s almost like we have had to put up with so much in the past from men that now we are looking for things, things that we have a legitimate reason to think so but we probably could put up with. Then again, why should we? ANYWAY! An example of sexism within language is:

Actor – Actress
Bachelor – Spinster
Master – Mistress

The “ess” ending which is shown above comes from “ette” which means small, this almost shows woman as less than men. Of course nowadays this is dying out, words such as authoress. I won’t miss it, the traditional view was that they were less and so I would say this was sexist, due to the attitude at the time.

Furthermore, the word for an unmarried man is bachelor and the word for an unmarried woman is spinster. I think these give completely different connotations. Bachelor gives the impression that they are unmarried because they want to be, they are having fun before they settle down and are still youthful. However spinster gives the impression of a jilted woman, one who has been “left on the shelf”, as though her fate as been decided by someone other than herself and I think it also alludes to her being quite old. The spinster of the parish always seemed as though she was unhappy, it personally reminds me of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.

Also this leads us on to Master and Mistress. Master gives the illusion of someone who is dominant and in control, the head of the house. It gives the idea that everything in the house belongs to him. Mistress however does not give this impression, as though she doesn’t own something, she is below the man. Mistress also reminds me of history when men, such as Kings, and other rich men, would have a wife and then mistresses which he would sleep with and have illegitimate children with. This shows how mistress gives out a promiscuous ideas as though she is just there for male gratification.

Looking at insults for women, I actually think it can be argued that they are actually more offensive. The words that women get called can be put into three different groups:

Sexual promiscuity: whore, slag, slut. These all show it as being a bad thing, which it doesn’t for men. It shows how they are almost incredible dirty for doing it.
Aniamalistic: bitch, dog, cow. These are all like animals, these dehumanise women.
Comment on their appearance: Fugly. These will get to women.

I feel as though these are actually more offensive because they pick on things that will deliberately insult girls and are quite personal. Commenting on someone’s sexual behaviour is quite personal as is their appearance, this will hurt women on the inside.

Sexism for men

I have been looking through quite a few magazines and male products in general and the ideas that these present to men is that it is ok for women to show emotion but not for them to, unless it is anger. On the covers it always shows an aggressive man who has a very blank face which shows that men just don’t do that. I think society have given men the idea that it isn’t right to act like this, that there is the right way and the wrong way. The language they use also suggests this.

Furthermore magazines encourage boys to fester on their own body waste, it is about hurting others and making things smelly. Seriously, read it! This than encourages them from a young age that this is an appropriate way to behave and then as they get older people tell them that this isn’t the way to act, is that fair? I would argue no, that is why if I ever have sons they will not be reading these magazines.

Insults for men I don’t think are as worse, unlike girls, they get congratulated for having a lot of sex. I think the insults can be put into two categories.

Genitals: knobhead, dick, twat. All referring to them being a body part.
Insulting to their mother: son of a bitch. This isn’t really an offensive to them, just their mothers.

In conclusion I think that English has elements of sexism, although it is unfair to say it is completely as women are treated equally within society, it is on;y in certain professions that they aren’t, you can’t say the whole langauge is. It has improved gradually and will probably continue to improve.  


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